Street, Avenue, or Something Else

Did you ever wonder why State Street is a Street, and not an Avenue?  Probably not.

But at one time, Chicago took these matters seriously.  There was a whole protocol on what suffix would be used on the city’s thoroughfares.

State Street (1978)

Actually, there didn’t seem to be any rule on what was called a Street, and what was called an Avenue.  Those other suffixes were another case.

Let’s take Boulevard.  That title was reserved for streets under the jurisdiction of the Chicago Park District, with its distinctive brown-and-white street signs.  Garfield, Logan, and Jackson were examples.

Sometimes, a limited section of a longer street was controlled by the Park District.  Oakley Avenue became Oakley Boulevard, Loomis Street became Loomis Boulevard, and so on.  The most interesting case was Avenue L—part of it was called Avenue L Boulevard.

Parkway and Drive were other suffixes reserved for the Park District.  Examples here include Diversey Parkway, State Parkway, Lake Shore Drive, and those various roadways running through the large parks.

Boulevard Food Mart—R.I.P.

Irving Park Boulevard was not a Park District street.  To be consistent, the city changed its name to Irving Park Road in 1937.  And yet, thirty years later, old-timers like my grandmother were still referring to Irving Park as “the Boulevard.”  Up until a few years ago, Boulevard Food Mart continued to operate at Irving Park and Mason.

Indianapolis Boulevard and Forest Preserve Drive are two city streets that are—technically—supposed to be called Avenue.  But among locals, the old usage persists.

So much for the Park District.  The vast majority of Chicago streets were controlled by the City of Chicago, and had yellow-and-black street signs.  And the city had a few protocols of its own.

The word Road denoted a major arterial street.  During the 1920s, the suffix became fashionable.  Roosevelt Road, Cermak Road, Pulaski Road, and Pershing Road date from this era.

Indian Road—not a major arterial street

On the other hand, Place and Court were local side-streets.  The Place suffix was mostly used for South Side “half streets.”  After 35th Street came 35th Place, after 63rd Street came 63rd Place, and all the way down to the city limits.

Chicago also had some oddball suffixes.  These included Northwest Highway, Memory Lane, Palmer Square, and South Park Way.  The last two were Park District thoroughfares.

So these were the general rules for street suffixes in Chicago.  Of course, there were some exceptions.

Ponchartrain Boulevard—not a Park District street

Congress Parkway was not a Park District street.  Neither were Wacker Drive nor Ponchartrain Boulevard.  On the other hand, most of Michigan Avenue and Marquette Road were controlled by the Park District, and displayed the signature brown signs.

Indian Road was nothing more than a local side-street.  And though Fairbanks Court was just a few blocks long, it carried some heavy traffic.  So did Foster Place.

Once the City of Chicago took over the Park District, street suffixes were up for grabs.  The section of La Salle Street north of the river was changed to La Salle Drive for a time.  Then it became La Salle Boulevard.  I’m not sure what they call it now.

Maybe I should give up trying to make sense out of this.  Or maybe I should just move into an apartment on Broadway.  If you hadn’t noticed, that street has no suffix.


11 Responses to “Street, Avenue, or Something Else”

  1. 1 rmichaelroman October 13, 2020 at 4:30 am

    Thank you for this; it scratched an itch.

  2. 2 cpapunk October 13, 2020 at 4:52 pm

    I forgot that Broadway didn’t have a suffix, and just looking at a map New York’s Broadway also doesn’t have a suffix.

    • 3 Garry October 13, 2020 at 5:41 pm

      There a number of other cities that add “Street” to Broadway, which makes no sense.
      But Silverton Way was left off the list. I miss that one block long street.

      • 4 J.R. Schmidt October 13, 2020 at 8:54 pm

        I’m glad someone else remembers Silverton Way. for those who don’t, it was a one-block-long street linking Cermak Road to South Park Way (King Drive).

  3. 5 Garry October 14, 2020 at 1:01 pm

    If I remember Bennett’s naming & numbering plan correctly, all N/S streets were to be named Streets or Courts & all E/W streets were to be Avenues & Places.

  4. 6 Dennis McClendon October 20, 2020 at 11:20 am

    A map showing that in Chicago, avenue and street don’t really correspond to orientation.

    • 7 J.R. Schmidt October 20, 2020 at 6:04 pm

      Thanks for the link. It illustrates an interesting aspect of Chicago’s street layout. I grew up just southeast of Montrose and Austin. Going south from Montrose, the east-west streets were a full block apart—Cullom (4300 north), Berteau (4200 north), Belle Plaine (4100 north). In the same area, going east from Austin, north-south streets were a half-block apart—Mason (half-block–5932 west), Marmora (full-block–5900 west), Monitor (half-block–5832 west), then Menard (full-block–5800 west). The general rule was, if an area had half-block streets running north-south, the perpendicular, intersecting east-west streets were full-block streets only (and vice-versa). In my neighborhood, those half-block streets south of Montrose stopped at Menard. East from there, you now had a half-block east-west street, Pensacola (4332 north). You would have had another half-block east-west street, Hutchinson (4232 north)—except that the land there was occupied first by Rockola Stadium, and later by Luther North High School. In any case, this type of layout continued east past Central to Laramie. The half-block vs. full-block orientation is common in much of the city.

  5. 8 Geri Lawhon October 21, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    I always like a post with some history. Thanks

  6. 10 Chris January 17, 2021 at 8:14 pm

    I loved this. Thanks again for such a great blog. Never knew the name from that now-gone liquor store (Boulevard) actually had a historical meaning behind it. Is that building actually as old as the Irving Park Boulevard distinction?

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